This Once-’Rust Bucket’ Mini Was Secretly Restored By The Best Friends Ever
Story & Photography by Andrew Snucins
“How was the drive?” The question was asked in one of two ways. One as a casual line used in lieu of a greeting. More of a, “How are you doing, how is the car, how were the roads, nice to see you,” all rolled into one small question. The other was the start of a conversation, an offer to sit and enjoy the company and the companionship that can only be found at the end of a long day of driving.
The answer would be more varied. It would be said with a smile, or a rueful shake of the head. But regardless of what path the answer would travel, it would start with: “Well…”
I had heard this exchange countless times over the past eight years on dirt corners or at the shoulder of the road, at lunch breaks, and at coffee shops. Hearing the answers always made me smile. I would listen and nod, but never truly join in other than to offer some comments on the weather, or to talk about the photos I had taken of the cars: there was always a piece missing to my involvement in that conversation.
But that statement is a two-part story.
Ten or 11 (maybe 12?) years ago I met Warwick Patterson on the side of a rally stage near Calgary Alberta, Canada. I had parked my truck in what I assumed was a safe place to avoid rocks and debris. Warwick, walking by with his co-worker and friend Dean Campbell, informed me that it was a rather unsafe spot to park. And just as I moved my truck, the then-Canadian Rally Champion Patrick Richard drove by and shotgunned the area I had previously occupied with thumb-sized gravel. Despite working for different media companies, I found myself grudgingly admitting that they might be smarter than my initial assessment had allowed.
We had no idea that meeting would spark a friendship, meeting on rally stages and service parks around North America. Warwick would go on to do the video at my wedding, and I owe the vast majority of my business’ success to his example and mentorship, and that of his team at Subaru Canada/USA.
Somewhere along the way, I was introduced to Dave Hord. I forget exactly which rally car he was crawling out of after installing GoPro cameras, but with a casual, “Heyo” and a dismissive wave, we were introduced. Dave and Warwick founded Classic Car Adventures in 2009, and that’s where this story truly begins.
I suppose now that the lead characters of this play are introduced, at least on the Classic Car Adventures side, I should introduce my wife. I met the then-Samantha Minnie Cooper eleven years ago. And after a horrendous attempt at convincing her to like me, she eventually had a brief lapse in judgment that prompted her to say yes to a date.
I know now, that as I sent her songs I liked, and she would heartily agree, “Yes that’s a great song!” that she was lying the entire time to keep the conversation going, and actually detested my taste in music. So while one part of that is good, the other leads to a lot of rock, paper, scissors battles for radio control on road trips.
Her name however, is probably the most crucial part of this story. I have always been a driver, with an obsession for traveling and classic cars that has spanned a lifetime. And when I learned about her rather adorable name I told myself that if she managed to put up with me for any length of time I would buy her a classic Mini. It should also be noted, that when we were married, she upgraded from being a “Minnie Cooper” to a “Minnie Cooper S” See? That’s fate.
So as courtships go, one thing leads to another and if an oblivious boy is eventually hinted at enough, he will decide to propose. And at that time I decided I needed to buy Samantha a Mini.
After a year of searching, my friend Nick Neu and I found through Dave Hord and Classic Car Adventures a seemingly-not-horrendously-conditioned 1974 Austin 1000. Now you may be saying, “Well that’s not a Mini Cooper” and well…you’re right. But I fell in love with the little rust ball the moment I saw it. So after a brief fifteen seconds of bartering, Nick, a good friend Sam Janowski and I were driving the Mini home from the lower mainland to Kamloops on one of the hairiest road trips I’ve ever done. Overheating and electrical issues plagued us the whole way home.
We hid the Mini at Nick’s house, and on an incredible day that I will never forget, we put the Mini out at a location and had Samantha driven out blindfolded to see it. Her reaction upon seeing the Mini, especially after I had convinced her the surprise was a kayak (including asking her to bring her life jacket and paddle), was one of the great moments of my life.
Not every woman would be excited to see a rusty shell of a car with wires hanging everywhere, no carpet, torn seats and smelling like squirrel nest. But Samantha loved it. And with the help of two more of our friends, Denise Hitt and photographer Ken Attwood, the reveal was a success.
Then began a few years of attempted self restoration on the car, followed by our restoration budget continuing to evaporate to such as expenses as the wedding, and more recently, our puppy Meelo being hit by a car, resulting in $11,000 in veterinary bills.
So the car sat and languished. The magic gone from the idea of driving this beautiful little car on a long drive. And as the years dragged on, the realization that we would probably never restore this car began to form.
But let us jump back to the other aspect of this story, to Dave and Warwick. It was the spring of 2009 when I received an email saying, “Hey Andrew, we’re doing an adventure drive through Kamloops and around BC, would you like to take some photos?” I leaped at the chance, and the weekends spent waking up pre-dawn to scout roads and stand in rain, hail, blistering heat or snow became my most anticipated weekends of the year. These are adventure drives without pretense or ego, without arrogance or competitiveness. They are a group of men and women uniting over a love of classic cars and roads.
Over the years on these events, you develop friendships with the people participating, and much like my friendship with Warwick and Dave, these are strange ones. Time and distance mean nothing to them. Being apart for months or even a year evaporates the moment you are reunited, with conversations and laughter picking up as if they had not been forgotten, but merely placed aside for safekeeping much as a beloved novel with new chapters still to write.
Nearly all of the participants of the Classic Car Adventures drives had heard the story of our Mini, and my wife’s name. They would laugh as I jokingly raged at my inability to win the lottery, and share their stories of driving a classic on the events to ease my burden.
I suppose this is because as anyone knows, there are fewer better ways to travel the back roads and little driven highways of the world than in a classic. The feedback from the car, the uncertainty of the mechanical or electrical state of the older equipment, and the shared experience of these joys / worries with your fellow drivers, are what make traveling in a piece of automotive history the joy that it is.
I am afraid doing the events yearly in our Kia Soul or Subaru Outback never quite gave that same feeling.
Around five months ago we made the decision to take the Mini to Robert Maynard at RWM & CO restorations in Delta, BC. The original purpose was to replace the floor pans and put some carpet in the vehicle to make it slightly more comfortable. We would then be able to take the car on the adventure drives. It wouldn’t be pretty, but it would work.
After we drove the Mini down to the coast and Robert had time to look over the vehicle, he informed us that he was surprised we had survived the drive, let alone done it in relative comfort with my friend Matt Sobus and his mini-dachshund Leo doing the job of co-pilot.
The front suspension was held together with hopes and dreams, and the rear subframe was being supported by two band-aid sized pieces of rust, amongst other issues. We were told the work needed was not insurmountable, but a horrendous amount.
Our hearts sank. Even if we replaced the floor pans, the car was obviously unsafe to drive. This is, apparently, where the deception began.
Robert called me few months later and said, “We can do the work for the agreed upon price, but we’re going to do it using time at home and out of shop resources. So there will be no guaranteed time of completion”.
Samantha and I felt horrible. We didn’t want Robert and Jaclyn, both close friends of ours, to devote their shops time or effort to this car that was obviously such a problem. We debated calling and just telling Robert to scrap the car, we would find another one when the budget allowed.
However, at the same time, Dave Hord had been putting out a call to arms amongst the Classic Car Adventures group, asking for help in the form of manpower and parts. And a secret restoration crew was formed from over a dozen of our friends.
So while we would call Jaclyn and Robert weekly to let them know to not put any effort into the car, as we were convinced we were going to just throw the vehicle away, they had a team working on restoring it.
I should have been suspicious when two weeks before the Hagerty Spring Thaw Classic Car Adventure, Jaclyn called me from RWM & Co to ask me to put six months of insurance on the Mini, under the guise of needing to transport it from the shop to the storage facility and back.
However, as was briefly described, or you may have extrapolated from the tone of this story, I am not the brightest of men, I believe the best man at my wedding described it best in his speech: “Andrew is a golden retriever in human form, loyal to a fault, and blissfully ignorant of most of the world’s happenings around him”. I happily mailed the insurance stickers and papers over to the shop, thankful that we were going to get the rust ball out of their hair and into storage. Then, after the drive, we would call them to let them know we would come and scrap the vehicle.
As we were having this conversation, though, unknown to me, the car was being rolled back into the shop fresh from paint!
So this brings us to the day before the 2016 Spring Thaw. Dave Hord had stored fifteen boxes of beer steins and door decals at our house in Kamloops, and loading up my trusty Subaru, I made the drive down to Vernon, which is around an hour each way, to drop off the supplies…under the assumption I would go back to Kamloops to pick up Samantha after she was done work and then drive back to Vernon.
Well, yes, in hindsight that plan didn’t seem very smart.
So after dropping off the steins and decals, I informed Dave Hord and Warwick’s mother, Sue Stafford, that we were going to skip the pre-event dinner, as I did not want to do the drive twice in one day. The revised plan was to take the route book and leave from Kamloops early to get ahead of the cars on the road.
This is the second time I should have been suspicious, as both Dave and Sue vehemently told me that they absolutely needed Samantha and I there that night to help with registration, and while Samantha has helped with registration for the past three years, Sue has a great team of people that could have easily handled the event without her.
Knowing what I know now, their horror and insistence is justified. As, during the day, the team at RWM & Co had loaded the Mini onto the Fargo sweep truck and driven it down to Vernon, fully restored, painted, and ready to drive.
The third time I should have been suspicious was when Dave called an impromptu driver’s meeting in the parking lot prior to dinner. But I pulled my camera out to get some pictures, and thought nothing of it until he told me to put it down and come stand with him.
A small spark finally lit that something was going on—and I figured he was going to thank everyone and ask for a group picture of all the participants. I was very proud of myself for figuring this out and began to dig in my camera bag for a different lens, trying to plan the photo mentally, when I heard somewhat distantly in my distracted mind, “Well why don’t I just call them and ask them to bring it ov…” And then my mind shut down.
The participants cheered, my wife laughed with one of the most joyous laughs I’ve ever heard from her, and I struggled to hold back tears in front of 170+ people as our beautiful Austin 1000 drove over. Unsuccessfully held back, I might add.
Working tirelessly, this family of friends, spearheaded by Dave Hord and Robert Maynard, had taken our tiny ball of rust and given us a fully restored Mini, as a thank-you for eight years of helping out at events and, of course, friendship.
Now let us leave this part of the story for a moment, and fast-forward to the end of day one of the 2016 Hagerty Spring Thaw, something I will never forget for the rest of my life.
We had driven the Mini hundreds of kilometers that day on the start of a journey that would take more than 1,500 km (~930 miles) by the time the weekend was over. And it drove flawlessly. We stopped at the hotel in Cranbrook, BC, and as my wife gleefully ran over to Sue to give her a hug and talk about the day, I passed a group of long time Thaw participants gathered around their cars. One of them extended a hand with a coffee, and with smiles from the group I accepted, glancing towards my wife, I shook my head with a rueful chuckle as the question I had heard countless times came again, this time directed at me—“How was the drive?”
With a long, lingering glance at the Mini, covered in dust and dirt, and never looking better, I sat down on the pavement between a ’66 Cobra 427 and a BMW e9, and looking up at the expectant faces, began a conversation eight years in the making: “Well…”